Around Back at a Tobacco Barn in Taiping District

Dongping Tobacco Barn 東平菸樓

Only traces remain of the tobacco cultivation and manufacturing industry in Taichung, Taiwan. For the better part of a century tobacco was cultivated across wide swathes of the Taichung Basin 台中盆地, cured on location, sold at regional marketplaces, and shipped to factories for further processing into cigarettes and other tobacco products. Taiwan’s accession to the WTO in 2002 marked the end of domestic tobacco production but the industry was already in steep decline, a consequence of globalization and the end of the government monopoly system in preceding decades. Several buildings related to Taichung’s tobacco industry have earned heritage status in recent years—but this decaying tobacco barn hidden down an laneway in Taiping, a suburban district on the eastern side of the burgeoning metropolis, is not among them.

A Tobacco Barn in Taiping District
An old tobacco barn hidden down a small laneway in eastern Taichung.
Around Back at a Tobacco Barn in Taiping District
Around back at the old tobacco barn off Dongping Road. The rooftop has collapsed on the far side.
A Crumbling Curing Chamber
Little effort has been spared to protect this relic from the elements.
Dongping Tobacco Barn
Facing the ruins of an old tobacco barn just off Dongping Road.
Inside a Taiping Tobacco Barn
The old tobacco barn is still used for storage. There’s even a car parked under the awning on the far side.

Tobacco barns once numbered in the hundreds in the Taichung Basin. Just about any family in the tobacco cultivation business built one on location, often as an extension of their existing residence, in order to cure tobacco before sending it to market. This particular tobacco barn is located only a short distance from the Taiping Tobacco Market 太平買菸場, recently declared a historic property and presently undergoing restoration. From there tobacco would have been shipped to one of several factories around the country—although in this case we can be reasonably sure the destination would have been the Taichung Tobacco Factory 台中菸葉廠, originally built during the Japanase colonial era in Dali, another suburban district to the south of Taiping, and still in business processing imported tobacco.

The Door to the Curing Chamber
The gateway to the curing chamber. Ordinarily this would be a heavier door to keep the heat trapped inside. This might have been a late addition.
Light Seeping into a Curing Chamber
Light seeps into the curing chamber. The walls are lined with wooden shelves that would have accommodated the poles from which the tobacco was hanged to cure.
A Broken Wall in the Second Curing Chamber
The second chamber is not as structurally intact as the first. Notice the round structure at the base of the wall; perhaps this is the conduit that would have conveyed heat from the furnace.
Inside the Tobacco Curing Chamber
The inside of the curing chamber is filled with suggestive clues. Was that little window used to observe the curing process?

I outlined much of the process of curing tobacco in my post about the Shuinan Tobacco Barn 水湳菸樓, the only officially protected tobacco barn in Taichung and also my introduction to learning about the tobacco industry in central Taiwan. In short, each curing chamber is filled with tobacco leaves draped from bamboo rods and then heated from below, usually by a wood-fired stove, for about a week to ready them for human consumption. The ventilation flaps at the top of the curing chamber, distinctive features of Taiwanese tobacco barns in particular, allow for additional temperature control. This particular barn has been retrofitted with more modern equipment including a machine that might have replaced the old-fashioned curing chambers entirely.

A Closer Look at the Building Materials
A closer look at some of the original construction material.
Ladders and Storage Rooms
Ladders and storage rooms.
A Late Addition to the Tobacco Barn
A late addition to the tobacco barn.
Sunset Over a Tobacco Barn in Taiping District
Late into the afternoon at the Dongping Tobacco Barn.

Hunting for tobacco barns has become another idle pursuit while travelling around Taiwan but I doubt I ever would have found this one without reading this excellent post describing several former barns around Taichung. Even with the information provided by that blogger I still had to stop and ask a woman working in an orchard for some help with directions. It isn’t visible from the main street and Google Street View isn’t of any assistance as the laneway has no coverage. I would say there’s a very good chance this building will be torn down at some point—and much of it has already collapsed. Personally I think this barn would be a good candidate for protection and restoration given its proximity to the Taiping Tobacco Market, but it is surrounded by light industry and warehouse lots that are not at all attractive to navigate.

Hazy Clouds Over the Dongping Tobacco Barn
Hazy clouds and waning light signal the end of another day on the road.

Apart from related sites already mentioned in the text I should also highlight the Liancun Tobacco Barn 鎌村菸樓, the most well-preserved such building I’ve visited in Taichung. It remains a private residence with no historic status nor public access but it’s in great condition and looks quite interesting from the street. Finally, you may enjoy this nostalgic tour of Taiping (in Chinese, of course), which highlights several other remnants of pastoral life here on the leading edge of Taichung’s urban sprawl.